Sister Pat Fox and other good shepherds

This Sunday is the feast of the Good Shepherd. In the Gospel today, Christ uses the metaphor of the good shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his fold. A good shepherd needs to know the condition of her flock to derive optimum benefits from the herd. The shepherd has a lot of responsibilities to the flock, including feeding, watering, grooming, leading, and providing protection. She intimately knows every member of his flock and is willing to put her life in line for each and everyone of them. In the Old Testament God is portrayed as the consummate shepherd who does all of these. In the New Testament, it is Jesus who is the epitome of the Good Shepherd.

In the Gospel of Luke, we hear of the parable of the lost sheep. How happy the shepherd was when he found the lost sheep, Jesus said of the shepherd. The image of the shepherd and his flock also alludes to eschatology judgment, likening the process to the separation of the (white) sheep from the goats. But Jesus is the shepherd of all, righteous and sinners alike. He was not only the shepherd of the Israelites, the chosen people, but of all nations.

Ancient Israel had false shepherds who exploited the people and abused their authority but God, through the ancient prophets, gave an assurance to his chosen people that he will send a messianic descendant of David who will feed his flock and be their shepherd. The Lord God says: “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And Christ is the messiah sent by God to shepherd his people.”

A true leader imitates Jesus the good shepherd. She serves not to be served, is protective of her people, does not oppress nor exploit them, and at all times is willing to subordinate her interest for the good of his flock. This is true for every person in whatever leadership role he finds himself in.

The moral message of the Good Shepherd gospel is most appropriate considering that we are about to elect barangay officials this coming May 14. Every candidate must be measured against the virtues of Christ as true shepherd of his flock. Thousands of aspiring candidates for posts in the barangays will offer their services and campaign to get elected. All will promise good and genuine service to would-be constituents. The electorate must know how to distinguish the true from the false shepherds; from the genuine leader to those who run only on the pretext of service but in reality will take advantage of their position.

Our government and political leaders should be like Jesus, a shepherd-leader, who leads by example, trustworthy, able to promote the interest of the community, is willing to sacrifice for the welfare of his constituents, relational, that is, he intimately knows what is to the best interest of his flock and finally, is invested in his flock. A shepherd-leader never threatens and puts her flock to any kind of danger. She is full of integrity and virtue such that the flock is not coerced into doing anything but will follow her out of love and respect.

We are definitely graced in the Philippines with good religious shepherds. Among many, Cardinals Chito Tagle and Orlando Quevedo, Archbishops Soc Villegas, Romulo Valles, and Antonio Ledesma, Bishops Pablo David, Bishop Benjamin Almoneda, and Broderick Pabillo are exemplary leaders in the Catholic Church, worthy of being successors of the late Cardinals Jaime Sin and Ricardo Vidal and the retired Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales. They have of course their counterparts in the Bishops of Protestant Churches.

There are also outstanding priests and religious that I know who are true good shepherds—among others, Monsignors Clem Ignacio, Ding Coronel, Ramon Masculino, and Fathers Jun Mercado, Rannie Aquino, Eric Castro, Aris Sison, Manuel Jadraque, Robert Reyes, John Young, Kits Butardo, and Randy Odchigue.

Up close and personal to me are of course the Jesuits I have known for decades but especially those I work closely with or have been my confessors and parish priests in Mary the Queen in Greenhills—Fathers Ben Nebres, Joel Tabora, Jun Viray, Jett Villarin, Tony Moreno, Chris Dumadag, Bobby Yap, Joe Quilongquilong, Dan McNamara, Ting Samson, Sergio Su, Manuel Montesclaros, Pat Falguera, Guy Guibelondo, Cesar Marin, and many others. I will forever also be grateful to the Jesuits that are now in heaven who continue to guide and protect me—Fathers Theodore Daigler, Tony Cuna, Rolly Bonoan, Veny Calpotura, Lenny Sumpaico, James McKeough, and. Rene A. Ocampo.

Our pastors in the Neocatechumenal Way have also been good shepherds. I am especially grateful to Fr. Paolo Benetton, Rector of Redemptoris Mater Mission Seminary of Manila and his fellow formators for the priests that have been formed in that seminary. Teaching philosophy to its seminarians have been an immense source of joy for me.

I also appreciate very much Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar for his wisdom and example that has guided me through the years. This includes his work as lay leader in the Mindanao Church. Indeed, lay leaders have also been good shepherds.

Writing of Mindanao, my uncle Emy La Viña was a big influence on me as a priest active in work on social justice in the island in from the1960s to the 1990s.

Last, but definitely not the least, I would like to thank Sister Patricia Fox, mother superior of the Our Lady of Sion congregation in the Philippines. Sister Patricia has been in the country for 27 years, working with the urban poor, indigenous peoples, and farmers. She is definitely a good shepherd we must welcome in our land. I make mine these words (with a few additions from me) of former Kabataan Representative Raymond Palatino:

“There are foreigners who parachute here to sign mining deals, those who wine and dine trapos to legalize the plunder of our future, those who ‘rally’ investors to speculate in prime local stocks but quickly leave once profits are hoarded, and those who smuggle drugs, guns, and bodies that destroy thousands of lives.

There are ‘friendly’ foreigners who stay to invade our islands and colonize our minds, those who want to turn our tropical paradise into a military outpost in the geopolitical battle for supremacy in Asia, and those who want to appropriate our precious resources and heritage for selfish ends.

These foreigners are glamorized in mainstream society, their work and so-called philanthropy are hailed as a generous act of love for filipinos, and they even reap accolades both here and abroad for their ‘sacrifice’.

And then there are foreigners like Sister Patricia Fox—a Christian who visited the poor in remote regions, a missionary who decided to live with farmers and indigenous peoples, and a hero who dedicated her life to empowering the weak against the many injustices in this world.

A foreigner bringing bombs in a hotel is a spy and a terrorist, a foreigner in control of the election system is an enemy of democracy, a foreigner creating dummy tycoons is a thief of our patrimony, but a foreigner who stayed here for more than two decades to support the struggles of the poor is not a threat to anyone but only to those who wanted inequality and oppression to continue. Sister Pat could have simply chosen to express solidarity, but she wanted to do more. And so she stayed and made the Philippines her home. 

She is neither an alien nor an undesirable foreigner. She is a true Filipino whose life is an affirmation of the enduring power of humanity.”

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Topics: feast , Good Shepherd , New Testament , Sister Patricia Fox , Christian , Representative Raymond Palatino
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